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“There is no milk” ceased to be a repeated phrase on the Island: because everyone knows it and, probably, by now they have resigned themselves. Children up to seven years old and the elderly with medical diets do not receive it with the necessary frequency, the two sectors of the population with the right to acquire it through a State subsidy. And this happens because there is practically no milk in Cuba.

Until a while ago some could get it in stores in MLC (Freely Convertible Currency). But not all, in order to access these stores you need a local bank card, which can only be acquired through foreign currency deposits or on the illegal market.

Cubans have not been able to get milk (even powdered milk) in MLC stores for months. The last time there was, at the beginning of the year, the bag of one kilo to one and a half kilos ranged between 6 and 8 MLC. That price implies paying at least 750 CUP, which is equivalent to a third of the minimum wage. It is also not available on the parallel market.

The dictatorship blames the Cuban cows, who are milked and cared for by their owners despite the few resources they have to feed them.

The worst production of fluid milk in the last 30 years was in 2005 (353.2 thousand tons). The downward trend began in 2012 to reach 455.3 thousand tons in 2020, which is equivalent to consuming 39.5 liters per inhabitant for an entire year, less than half a glass a day.

Manuel has worked in the cooperative for 12 years and believes that the measure adopted by the government to increase production is late. Now farmers can decide to kill their cows if they first meet the commitments of the state order, according to the milk and meat sales contracts, in addition to guaranteeing the growth of the herd, without shortages, a requirement also applied to the category of cows.
The lowest average number of milking cows in the last 30 years was recorded in 2020 (311,400 heads: 41,300 in the state sector and 270,100 in the non-state sector), the last year with figures available according to ONEI.
At the end of 2020, Cubadebate recognized the inability to meet the needs of the prioritized groups in the province of Villa Clara, which were equivalent to 77 thousand liters per day. Deliveries ranged between 68 and 69 thousand liters.

The penalty for the crime of illegal slaughter of large cattle in Cuba is three to eight years in prison, and two to five for those who sell, transport or trade their meat, according to article 317.1 of the new Penal Code.
“Yes, it is very good that now they let you kill the cow that you raise with your sacrifice and work (before you couldn’t in any way), but that alone was never the real problem. The low state price of milk to the producer, non-compliance with payments, lack of specific incentives, such as access to resources and equipment… they don’t talk about that”, Manuel shrugs.
“Sometimes you wonder if it’s worth all this effort… But then you see the hunger that is going around and you understand that you are on the front line to achieve what everyone else finds it. At least here and now I get milk for my family”, confesses Manuel.
This is how the majority of Cuban farmers transfer milk production to the collection centers. The government pays 5, 17 or 20 CUP per liter of milk, depending on its quality, according to the measure approved on November 1, 2021 that hoped to increase its production. On the black market it reaches 35 CUP per liter.
In the city of Santa Clara, province of Villa Clara, in the center of the country, at 80 years old, Nereida has been assigned a medical diet by a doctor due to various ailments and, therefore, she is entitled to a liter of milk (0.25 CUP) five times a month. “During the month of April I only received it three times,” she says.
At the end of April 2022, several independent Cuban media echoed the viral video of the Spanish influencer Rosa Martorell about the distribution of milk in Trinidad, province of Sancti Spíritus. The absence of individual containers for the delivery of milk implies its irregular distribution through pipes and the hoses and plastic tanks that contain it are unhygienic.
Leo lives right next to Nereida and must receive three liters of milk, every other day, for being pregnant and for her two small children. Some weeks this year she has only been to government-subsidized grocery stores once or twice. Leo reckons that half the time, his milk runs out and he has to turn it sweet to make use of it. The problem then is that he doesn’t have enough sugar.

Article originally published in Periodismo Situado

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José Martí
José Martí
Nacionalista cubano, poeta, filósofo, ensayista, periodista, traductor, profesor y editor.

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